“A big, square house, wid evergreens around it? Yes, I could find it again in de dark.”
“Very well,” continued the bookkeeper, whose pen did not cease scratching for a single moment, “you’d better go up now and find it, for there’s a gentleman up there who may give you a job; but let me give you a bit of advice, young man. Don’t remember too much or see too much when you’re sent on errands. It’s the boys who forget what they see, and the places that they’re sent to, who make the most money nowadays. Here’s twenty-five cents for car fare, and now you go up there, and you’ll find the gentleman whom you politely refer to as ‘the bloke with the black whiskers’ waiting for you.”
Skinny made haste to obey, and within an hour was entering the dark, shady grounds of Mr. Dexter’s house with the same furtive, cautious way of looking about him that he had shown further down town. His old acquaintance, the man with the black beard and the deeply-scarred face, was walking up and down the roadway in front of the house, smoking a cigar.
“So you’ve been in the hospital, have you?” was his salutation. “What sort of a hospital was it? One with bars to the window?”
226“Naw, der wan’t no bars to de windows. I wuz in de New York hospital, and I’ll leave it to de nurse, a dinky lady wot sat up all night wid us, and wore a white cap. Dat’s on de level, boss.”
The tall man regarded him suspiciously for a moment, and the boy squinted up at him with a defiant look in his sharp eyes that caused the other to smile and say to him in more conciliatory tones: “Well, I’ve got one or two errands for you to do, and if you do them properly, you’ll be well paid for them. If not, you’ll come to grief. How would you like to take a little trip into the country, to be gone two or three days? I hope that you have no pressing business engagements in the city that will interfere with the project.”
Skinny replied with perfect gravity that he had intended to take dinner with Mr. Vanderbilt that night, but that he would try and get him to excuse him, in which case he observed in his picturesque slang that it would be necessary for him to eat elsewhere, and at an early moment. The tall man was laughing broadly now—he always found a great deal of amusement in Skinny—and so he bade him go into the kitchen and tell the cook to let him have something to eat. “When you are through, come into the library, I want to talk to you.”
The boy partook of a hearty meal in the kitchen of the great house, and while he was eating it, entertained the cook and the other servants with his droll comments on the food that was set before him. Having finished, he washed his face and hands at the sink, bowed politely to those who were in the room, and went up to the library where the master of the house was awaiting him.
“Do you think,” said the tall man, “that you could find your way to a place two or three hundred miles from here, do an errand for me without telling everything you know, and then come back?”
“I kin,” was Skinny’s answer.
“Very well,” rejoined the other producing a paper on which was written a number of names, “Can you read writing?”
Yes, thanks to the night school in the lodging house, Skinny could read, and he said so in accents of just pride mingled with contempt for those who were his inferiors in that point of education.
228“All right then,” continued the other. “Take this paper and listen to what I tell you. Go up to the village of Rocky Point and try to get work there with some farmer or shopkeeper. That’s just for a blind, you know, so that nobody will guess that you’ve come up there all the way from New York. Perhaps it would be better for you to stop off the train at some other village and walk in on foot. As soon as you get a chance, take a walk out to the cemetery and look around for a grave marked Decker. I think it’s the grave of Mary Decker. When you find it, copy the inscription, every word of it, mind, dates and all, and stick it away somewhere where nobody will find it. Then see if there are any other graves in the same plot with the same name. See if there is the grave of a young boy, the son of this Mary Decker there, and if there is a grave without any headstone over it, find out who lies buried there. If there is no other grave, find out from some of the village folks whether this Mary Decker left any children, and if so what has become of them. It may take you a week, or it may take you only a day to do all this, but as soon as you get the information, come back to me and let me know about it. Here is money enough for your 229fare and other expenses, and perhaps you had better write me a letter as soon as you get settled there. Here is my address, Robert J. Korwein,—Eldridge Street.”
Skinny had listened with close attention to all that had been said to him and now, taking the paper with the different names marked on it, he carefully went over it, making a few scratches of his own from time to time which should serve him as memoranda. Then without a word, he took the roll of bills which lay on the table before him, counted them carefully and hid them away in the inner pocket of his ragged jacket.
“I understand, boss,” he simply said, “wot time does de train start?”
“To-night at eight,” was the reply, “here’s a time table and remember to change cars at Syracuse for Oswego. There you will take another train for Rocky Point. Be careful not to attract any attention or set those village fools to gossiping and cackling. Above all, don’t let anybody find out that I sent you, or that there’s anybody alive who takes any interest in the grave of Mary Decker or in the whereabouts of her son. If you get through this trip all right and find out what I want to know, I’ll give you more money than you ever had before in your life.”
230“Dere won’t be no slip-up, nor funny business wid me, boss,” said Skinny as he buttoned his coat over the roll of greenbacks. “I’ll git you dere names and all and I’ll probably write yer in two or tree days.”
Mr. Korwein accompanied the boy to the gate and, having repeated his caution to observe secrecy and dispatch in his mission, bade him good-bye, and watched him as he walked down the road and finally disappeared from view; then he returned to the front porch of the house, seated himself on the steps, and for some time sat there smoking and thinking. After awhile, he threw away his cigar, pulled a letter from his pocket and read it carefully through. It was dated Paris, and read as follows:
“My Dear Nephew:
It is a great pleasure to me to hear from you as frequently as I do, and I sincerely hope that you are living up to all that you promised me at our last meeting. I think on the whole, that it is a fortunate thing for me, that you are living in the old homestead, and I am glad that you find the house comfortable. As the years roll by, each one leaves its weight on my shoulders and as I draw nearer to the end I find myself thinking more of the few of my blood who remain. As I told you long ago I have never made a will, fearing that it would bring about an unseemly contest after I had gone. As next of kin you 231will be my principal heir, and I charge you once more to carefully carry out all the wishes which I have made known to you concerning the small bequests to my faithful servants and others whom I wish to reward.
I have not yet determined when to return to my own country, but it is not improbable that you will see me before the end of the year. Meantime see that the house and grounds are suitably maintained, and write me from time to time concerning your welfare.
Hoping this will find you in good health, I remain,
Your affectionate kinsman,
When Mr. Korwein had finished reading this letter he replaced it carefully in his pocket, lit another cigar, and resumed his meditations, and if anyone could have looked into his heart at that moment he would have been heard to say to himself something like the following:
“I think that after all I have played my cards wonderfully well and unless some brat turns up with a claim on it nothing can prevent me from inheriting the bulk of the estate. So far he knows nothing about the shop down town, but if he ever finds out about it I shall be ruined. I’ll take care that he doesn’t though, and, after all, the city is so big, and there are so many people in it, that the chances of his or anybody else’s connecting me with that shop are very small indeed. The boy has 232got some stuff in him and under my tuition he’ll amount to something. I think I’ll take hold of him if he does this business in the country all right, and give him a steady job, looking after my affairs. He’s a smart little brute and knows enough to keep his mouth shut. It’s easy enough to get some lawyer to go up there and find out what I want to know but a lawyer would be too smart to suit me; he’d suspect something at once, whereas this kid will think of nothing except the money he’s going to get, besides if he did want to blab he’d find no one but some youngster of his own age and class to talk to. I guess I did the best thing I could in sending him up there, but all the same I shall be anxious until he gets back.”
At this point in his reflections, the tall, dark bearded man rose to his feet, walked swiftly down the winding path, passed through the front gate, and then went on down below it till he reached the station of the east side of the Elevated railroad. Three quarters of an hour later he entered the little office on Eldridge Street where the bookkeeper was still diligently at work on his big ledger.
“How is business to-day?” he asked of his assistant.
233“Pretty fair,” replied the other, as he handed his chief a batch of letters that had arrived in the morning’s mail, and which he had opened and perused. Mr. Korwein took the letters in his hand, pushed open a small swinging door behind the bookkeeper’s desk and disappeared into the room beyond, leaving the old bookkeeper toiling away with his scratching pen as if he had been at it all his life and never expected to stop.
When Skinny the Swiper parted from his employer he walked rapidly down the road which led to the Elevated station, took the train and proceeded to Forty-second Street, and then to the Grand Central Depot. Here he purchased a ticket for Rocky Point, and, finding that he still had an hour to wait, determined to employ his time to good advantage in eating another dinner. The fact that he had partaken of a hasty repast in Mr. Korwein’s kitchen two hours before, made no difference to him. Hearty repasts did not come in Skinny’s way every day, and he believed in availing himself of every opportunity of the sort that presented itself. He was capable of eating three or four dinners in one day, and nothing at all for two days after, and as he was going into the interior of the country, to a point more distant from 234the city than any that he had ever previously visited, he determined to fortify himself for the journey with a good, square New York meal, the last, he said to himself, that he might have for many a day.
Therefore he strolled languidly along, with his hands in his pockets, until he reached Third Avenue, and not half a block away he found a small oyster house, in which he thought he could be well fed. In taking a seat at one of the small tables, he called the waiter to him in a lordly manner, that caused the other diners in the room to smile broadly, and bade him bring him a beefsteak, potatoes, a piece of apple pie, and “be quick about it.”
“Which will you have first, sir, the pie or the steak,” said the waiter with perfect gravity.
“You can bring me de pie, an’ I’ll eat it while de steak is cookin’,” replied Skinny, and was astonished to notice that his remarks were greeted with a general roar of laughter, in which the waiter and cashier, as well as the guests, joined heartily.
Having eaten his dinner, he returned to the depot, easily found his train, and in a very short time was being whirled along over the smooth road that leads to Albany. He had never been twenty miles from the city in his life, and as 235the train sped on, affording him continual glimpses of the broad Hudson, he wondered how much further the country extended, and whether the whole of the United States was like that part of it which he saw from his car window. The train was still many miles from Albany when the darkness succeeded the twilight, the moon and stars came out, and the little street boy looked down upon the great river that was bathed in moonlight and saw it at its best. After awhile he felt himself growing drowsy, then he stirred himself up on the red plush seat, closed his eyes, and did not open them again until the next morning. When he awoke the car was passing slowly through the street of a town, and Skinny wondered if it could be possible that they were back again in New York, after having completed the circuit of the earth. It was some minutes before he could collect his scattered senses, and then the train stopped, the passengers streamed out, and Skinny learned that they were in Syracuse, and that everybody was going out for breakfast.
Thrusting his hand in his inner pocket he found that his money was still there, and as he entered the big dining-room in the railroad depot, he chuckled to think of the meal that 236he was going to enjoy at somebody else’s expense. It was an ordinary railroad restaurant, and a great many of the well-dressed passengers were turning up their nose at the coffee, which was served in thick china cups, and at the sandwiches, triangles of pie, bits of cold chicken that were displayed on the counter under glass cases, like curiosities in a museum, but the little street boy from New York thought it one of the finest places he had ever been in, and the breakfast which he consumed was certainly superior to anything that he had been accustomed to.
Breakfast over, he strolled out on the platform, and, with his hands in his pockets and his sharp eyes noting everything and everybody that came within their range of vision, he walked up and down whistling in a shrill manner, and creating no small amount of amusement. Having entertained the depot loungers for a few moments, he sought out the Oswego train, climbed aboard it, and just as it was on the point of starting, waved his hand cheerfully to the group who were watching him from the depot. At Oswego he ate another breakfast, and then boarded the train for Rocky Point, a small village on the shore of Lake Ontario.
As soon as the train had left Oswego, Skinny took from his pocket the written instructions that Mr. Korwein had given him and devoted a quarter of an hour to a close study of it. Then he put it back in his pocket, consulted a time table of the road and found that there was a station next to Rocky Point and not more than three miles distant from it. At this station the boy determined to alight and perform the remainder of his journey on foot. It would look suspicious, he thought, for a boy of his size and raggedness to arrive in a village by any such luxurious mode of travel as a railroad train. He felt that he would be expected to go at once from the depot to the best hotel in the town and if he started out in quest of a job he would instantly be looked upon by the authorities as a suspicious character. It would be more in keeping with his appearance as well as his purpose to arrive on foot by way of the high road.
Therefore he left the train at the station next the one he was journeying to, and started to 238finish the distance on foot. It was a cool autumn morning with just enough warmth in the sun’s rays to make walking enjoyable. The road which he took afforded him a view of Lake Ontario, as it ran parallel with the shore of that great inland sea. Skinny thought it was salt water; in fact he thought all large bodies of water were salt, and although he soon found himself very thirsty it never occurred to him to go down to the beach which in some places was within fifty yards of the road and take a drink. So he trudged patiently along, hoping to find some well or spring, and while he was walking and whistling he was surprised to see lying by the roadside a new red shawl which had evidently been dropped from some passing vehicle. He picked it up instantly for it was his habit to pick up whatever he could find in his way. It was a good shawl of a bright pattern and apparently had not been worn much. Skinny examined it carefully, wondering what use he could make of it. Then he shook his head doubtfully, tucked the shawl under his arm and trudged on as before. He had not gone far before he saw a carriage approaching, and as it drew near he noticed that it was driven by a lady who looked anxiously about her on both sides of the road while she urged 239her horse rapidly forward. Skinny, who at this moment was enjoying a short rest on a big stone under an oak tree, remarked the lady’s appearance and said to himself “Dat must be de one dat lost de shawl.”
His first impulse was to conceal it behind the stone upon which he sat, but another idea—one that was more honest and more politic as well—came into his head, and as she was about to drive past him he started up from his seat and called to her, at the same time displaying the red garment in his hand. The lady stopped her horse suddenly and Skinny stepped over to the carriage and said “I found dat shawl up de road, but I guess it’s yours.”
As he said this he found that he was speaking to a young buxom and healthy woman who looked as if she might be the wife of some prosperous farmer. He saw also that she had been driving very fast, for her horse was panting and wheezing very much after the manner of the horses of New York that were used to bring the afternoon papers from Park Row to the upper part of the city. She looked down at the ragged boy who stood by her wheel with the red shawl thrown over his arm and then she smiled in what the little newsboy thought was a wonderfully sweet and winning way, and 240still smiling, she said: “Yes that is my shawl. I lost it about three quarters of an hour ago and I was so afraid that somebody would pick it up and make off with it that I just drove back as fast as I could, to get it. Where did you find it?”
“Along dere a little ways,” replied the boy indicating with his right hand the direction from which he had come.
“And who are you little boy, and where do you come from?” continued the lady still smiling pleasantly.
“Oh I was just out for a walk,” replied Skinny with his accustomed air of careless bravado, but just then he happened to remember the role that he was assuming, and he added with great haste “I taut mebbe I could get a job some’rs around here. I want work, dat’s wot I want.”
Having said this he politely handed his new acquaintance her shawl and stood regarding her critically through his keen blue eyes. The young lady in her turn subjected the boy to a scrutiny that was as careful as that with which he regarded her and in a moment or two she said “If you will get into the carriage with me I will take you down to my house and perhaps my husband will find something for you to do. 241At any rate, he will give you something for finding the shawl.”
“I don’t want nuthin’ for lettin’ go de shawl. I wanter get a job of some kind ernuther. I tink I’d like ter try a little country life.”
“Well, jump in with me and I’ll see what can be done for you” rejoined his new acquaintance, and Skinny accepted her invitation without another word. He climbed up to the seat beside her and waited quietly while she turned her horse around and started in the direction of Rocky Point. The boy enjoyed the ride very much, but although it was full of wonderful surprises to him, he did not show by his face or manner that it was the first time in his life that he had ever been more than twenty miles away from New York. As for the broad expanse of water that lay stretched out before him he was sure it was either the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific, he did not know which and he did not care enough to ask. As they rode along they passed field after field of ripened corn and wide orchards in which men were busy shaking the fruit from the trees and gathering it in great heaps on the grass ready for packing in barrels. Occasionally they passed bits of woodland in which the trees, touched by the early frosts, were 242brilliant in red, yellow and scarlet. Farmers passed them on the road, riding in wagons piled high with corn and apples, and once Skinny saw a load of yellow pumpkins, the like of which he had never set eyes on before. It was all very new and strange to the city boy, and his keen eyes took in everything about him, but not a word escaped his lips that betrayed his utter ignorance of country life.
He made up his mind, however, that it would be best for him to tell his companion that he had come from New York, because, he argued, she would be sure to find it out herself even if she had not already noticed the difference between a boy from the city and the “jayhawkers,” as he denominated them whom he judged constituted the bulk of the population of the neighborhood. Therefore he told her that he had made his way from New York by easy stages—“dey wuz easy too” he said to himself with a chuckle—and that he wanted to get work on a farm or in a country hotel. To the lady who rode beside him, the boy’s desire to get out of the city into the country seemed but a natural one, while his honesty in restoring her lost shawl and his avowed purpose to get work of some kind commended him strongly to her, and she determined to give him whatever 243help she could. On the outskirts of the village of Rocky Point she drew up in front of a large, comfortable looking farm house and bade her companion descend and open the gate. A tall, sunburned and bearded man who was standing in his shirt sleeves by the barn door now came forward to greet his wife.
“I’ve brought a boy home for you Silas,” she remarked pointing to Skinny who was standing holding the gate open for her to enter, “what do you think of him?” The husband smiled pleasantly in response but the glance which he bestowed on the new arrival was one of curiosity blended with a degree of suspicion.
“Where did you pick him up,” he said as he helped his wife to alight.
It was a strange thing to the newsboy, whose life had been spent in the streets of the great city, to find himself awaking the next morning in a clean, wholesome bed in a room which, if not elegant, was at least comfortable, neat and redolent of old fashioned country herbs. Of course he did not question the honesty of his host or hostess but from sheer force of habit and as a precautionary measure, too, he examined the roll of bills in his inside pocket and assured himself that they were all there. 244Then he dressed himself, stole quietly down stairs and found Mrs. Wolcott busy in her big kitchen.
Her husband was out in the barn, and there Skinny found him, giving the horses and cattle their morning meal. There was plenty about the farm for a boy to turn his hand to, and Skinny’s first job was driving the cows out to the pasture where there was still to be found a good deal of grass that had defied the cold weather. It was an easy and not unpleasant task strolling along the road, letting down the bars of the pasture lot, watching the cattle as they streamed through, and then putting up the bars and walking back to the farm house where Mrs. Wolcott had just put the breakfast on the table. The boy found, too, that his walk had given him an excellent appetite and he consumed such an amount of country luxuries as fairly surprised himself. Breakfast over he helped the farmer put the two horses in the big wagon, then climbed in and accompanied him to the corn field a mile away.
By the exercise of his customary and habitual silence, and by carefully watching the farmer and the hired man, Skinny managed not only to acquit himself with credit in their eyes but to impress them with the idea, that it might be a 245handy thing to have a boy of his sort about the farm all the time, or at least until the harvesting was over.
During that day Skinny did more solid work, ate more good food, and breathed more pure air than in any other one day of his career, and when night came he fell asleep and did not stir again until he was aroused by the farmer early in the morning. Then he repeated his experience of the day before, and by the time Sunday came around he had come to the conclusion that country life was not so bad, after all, and that there were worse people in the world than “jayhawkers,” as he called them. On Sunday morning, Mr. and Mrs. Wolcott started, in their best clothes, for church, a proceeding which seemed so remarkable to Skinny that he inquired why they went there. They would have taken him with them, too, if his clothes had been more presentable, but although Mrs. Wolcott had made some repairs in his torn jacket, and provided him with a new and clean shirt, he was still unmistakably a ragged New York street boy, and would have been out of place in the village church, where all the country lads were taken, neatly washed and combed, and with their boots well greased and their clothes carefully brushed.
246So Skinny remained at home with the hired man, who promptly went to sleep on the hay in the barn, after the fashion of all hired men, leaving the strange boy to his own devices. That was exactly what he wanted, and taking a piece of paper and a pencil from the parlor table, he seated himself in a corner of the kitchen, and addressed the following letter to his employer, at the same time congratulating himself on the diligence which he had displayed at the night school in the Newsboys’ lodging-house, which had enabled him to write so freely and elegantly. This was what he had to say:
Sir:—I have got a job on a farm, and will do what you told me when I get the chance. No more at present, from
The chance which he had been looking for came to him rather unexpectedly that very afternoon, when Mrs. Wolcott asked him to take a letter to the post-office for her, and suggested at the same time that he should take a little walk around the village.
“Wot sort uv tings is dere ter see in dis place?” asked the boy.
“Well,” replied the other, smiling, “the usual afternoon walk is down over the bridge to the cemetery, and if you keep up along that 247road a mile further, you’ll find some very pretty woods that go down to the shore.”
“All right,” replied the boy, “I’ll take in all de sights.”
Stopping at the post-office, he mailed his own letter as well as the other, and then kept on down the village street, across the bridge and up the hill to the old burying-ground, in which a number of rustic couples were enjoying their regular Sunday afternoon stroll. These looked with some surprise and a little amusement, at the ragged boy, who was prowling about from one headstone to the other, reading the panegyrics and inscriptions, and evidently hunting for some particular grave. But although he searched diligently for nearly an hour, he could find no grave-stone that answered the description given him by Mr. Korwein, and, fearing that he was attracting more attention than he desired, he started to leave, with the intention of returning at some future day, when to his intense surprise, he heard his name called in a familiar voice, and on looking up saw some one whom he knew rapidly approaching him.
Like other boys of his class, born and brought up in the streets of New York, and accustomed from the earliest period of infancy to take part in the great struggle of life, Skinny 248possessed a degree of stoicism that would have done credit to an Indian warrior, and it was seldom, indeed, that he was taken off his guard, no matter what happened. But this time his surprise was so great that he forgot himself, and standing stark still in the path, exclaimed “Hully gee!”
The next moment Bruce Decker was wringing him by the hand, and saying: “What in the world brings you up here?”
Skinny grinned broadly, and replied: “I’m a haymaker now, workin’ on a farm here. Dere’s lots to eat, and a good place to sleep. I tink I’ll stay here all winter. But I taut you wuz in New York.”
“This is the town I used to live in when I was a small boy,” replied Bruce, “and I’ve just come back here for a short visit. This is the first time I’ve been here since I went into the fire department, and it’s great to get out in the country again. But when did you leave the city? I wanted to see you, and I went down to that lodging-house, but you were not there. I was afraid I wouldn’t run across you again.”
“I s’pose yer taut that I wuz goin’ ter sneak wid dat money, but I wa’nt. I’m earnin’ it up here.”
“Never mind about that money,” rejoined Bruce hastily. “I wanted to see you about some other things. I wanted to find out some more about that man with the scarred face you told me about who sent you on the errands up to Harlem. Have you seen him since we parted?”
For a moment the other boy hesitated, remembering his instructions to observe secrecy. Then he remembered that he owed his life to Bruce, and that, according to his code, he was bound to him, rather than to a man who was nothing more than his employer. “Yes,” he said, hesitatingly, “I seen him de odder day, but he didn’t say nuthin’ about you.”
“No, of course he wouldn’t,” answered Bruce, “and I don’t want you to say anything to him about me, either, but for all that, I want to get on his track and find out who he is, just for reasons of my own, and as soon as I get back to the city I want you to take me where I can find him.”
Skinny made no reply, but continued to regard the other with his keen, light-blue eyes, and then Bruce went on in softer tones: “My mother is buried here, and I came out to see her grave. Come over here, and I’ll show it to you.” Leading the way, across an empty bit 250of grass, he stopped in front of a small gray headstone, and there the New York street boy read a name which caused him to forget himself for the second time that afternoon, and to exclaim once more “Hully gee!”
Never, up to that moment, had he in any way connected Bruce, whom he knew only by his first name, with the mission on which he had been sent, but now a sudden gleam of comprehension lit up his mind, for he saw on the grave-stone before him the inscription:
Let us return now to the Van Kuren family, whom we last saw at the moment of their departure for Europe. Mr. Van Kuren having determined to give himself a long rest and his children opportunities for travel in foreign lands and study under the most competent instructors, journeyed at once to Paris and there established himself in a great hotel intending to take a place in the suburbs of the French capital. Laura and her brother amused themselves by walking and riding through the city, sometimes with their aunt and sometimes with Mr. Reed, their tutor, but there were many hours which they were compelled to spend in their rooms engaged in study, for their lessons went on under the supervision of their tutor just exactly as they had at home.
One morning they were sitting together in the parlor of Mr. Van Kuren’s apartment talking about America and their many friends there, as they frequently did, and Bruce’s name came up with the others.
252“I wish,” said Laura, “that papa would let us write to him, because he must think it very strange that he has heard nothing from us since we went away. You see he knows nothing about us or why we had to break off our friendship so suddenly.”
“Oh I’ll get around papa all right one of these days,” said Harry carelessly, “and I’ve no doubt he’ll let me send him a letter when I ask him to.”
They were still talking about Bruce and wondering whether he had completely recovered from his injuries, when the door opened and their father entered in company with a white haired gentleman whom they recognized at once as the one who had occupied the big house near their own and whose name they had long since been forbidden to mention. They looked up now with their eyes wide open with surprise, as their father called to them by name and said, “Samuel, these are my children. You haven’t seen them since they were very small.” Mr. Dexter extended his hand and said with an extremely pleasant smile on his pale face, “Yes I remember them very well. This is Laura and this is Harry. You don’t remember me, children, I suppose?”
253Laura made no reply, but Harry spoke up in his impulsive, boyish way and said, “why you’re the gentleman who lives in that, big square house, and used to come and see us ever so many years ago. I remember you well but papa told us long ago that we mustn’t—”
“That will do Harry,” said his father hastily and in a stern tone of voice which his son was thoroughly familiar with. Then he turned to Mr. Dexter and said, “It’s some years since we’ve seen you and I didn’t think the boy had such a good memory.”
“Yes,” replied the other, who had been amused at Harry’s interrupted remark, “a fatally good memory, I see. But how long do you intend to stay in Paris?”
“A month or so,” said Mr. Van Kuren, and then the children were sent out of the room and he and Mr. Dexter seated themselves and entered into a long talk which lasted until the time came for dinner. During that meal, of which Mr. Dexter partook also, he asked both Harry and Laura a great many questions about their studies and amusements, and evinced an interest in them which neither could quite understand. Laura was burning to tell him all about Bruce and his strange recollection of the old house, but no opportunity offered itself, 254and soon after dinner Mr. Dexter went out with her father, leaving the brother and sister to amuse themselves until bedtime.
That night Laura made up her mind to speak to Mr. Dexter as soon as possible about the subject that was uppermost in her mind. She longed to ask her father or her aunt why it was that this old gentleman, whom they had been brought up to avoid, should suddenly appear before them in Paris as her father’s friend and guest, but when on the following day she ventured to broach the subject, she was told so peremptorily that little children should not ask questions, that she did not venture to repeat her attempt, but determined to await an opportunity to speak to Mr. Dexter himself. That opportunity soon offered itself, for the old gentleman became a frequent visitor at the hotel, calling upon her father almost every day and either going out with him or else remaining for long and close conversations. Miss Van Kuren went with them in their journeys or joined them in their talk, but it was some days before Laura found the chance for which she was looking so anxiously.
One morning the old gentleman arrived just after the whole of the Van Kuren family, excepting 255Laura, had gone out and it was she therefore who received him in the private parlor. Mr. Dexter seated himself in an easy chair by the fire and entered into conversation with the young girl regarding her lessons, her friends in America and the amusement which she found in Paris. This was the chance she had been waiting for, and with an air of deep mystery she said.
“Mr. Dexter there was a very curious thing that happened some time ago and if I tell you I want you to promise me not to say anything about it to anybody not even to papa, and particularly not to Harry.” In her eagerness she forgot the agreement she had made with Bruce, an agreement which had more than once prevented him from speaking of the subject to friends and others who might have aided him in his search.
“Certainly my dear, I will make that promise,” replied Mr. Dexter, with a beneficent smile, “now tell me what this mysterious thing is. I assure you I am very anxious to know.”
Then Laura told him the story with which my readers have been already made familiar—she described to him their acquaintance with Bruce and repeated what he had told her in regard to the old house and his instant recognition 256of it. As she proceeded, the old gentleman’s interest in her story grew stronger and stronger, and when she ended he wiped the perspiration from his forehead with a hand that was by no means steady and exclaimed “What you tell me is very strange indeed! I remember the young man very well. He came up to my house one day to get some magazines and papers that I had there; and so he found Harry that very day did he? Well my dear, I scarcely know what to think of it, for strangely enough his story fits in with certain other things that I have learned within a year and makes it more than possible that—but after all what is the use of allowing such thoughts to enter my head?” and breaking off abruptly he rose from his chair pacing slowly up and down the floor talking indistinctly to himself as he did so.
And as he walked, Laura, who had become thoroughly excited over the mystery which she found as romantic and interesting as any she had ever found in a novel, watched him intently, carefully noting the effect that her words had had on him and wondering what the meaning of the whole matter was.
“Do you happen to know the address of this young man?” inquired Mr. Dexter suddenly stopping in his walk.